Regardless of income or race or any other factor people should have equal access to the court system. Everyone needs to have confidence that if the day comes where they have a need to go to the court system that … they are going to be treated with respect and they’re not going to have economic obstacles to equal justice.
In November 2005, preceding his retirement from the bench, Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, by order of the state Supreme Court, established the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission, making North Carolina the 19th state to establish such an entity. The mission of the Commission is to expand access to the civil justice system for people of low income and modest means in North Carolina.
The 30-member Commission was structured to include representative stakeholders from across the state, to reflect the diversity of the legal, geographic, gender, and ethnic communities of North Carolina and to be chaired by the Chief Justice. Commission members include representatives of all three branches of government, legal aid communities, client communities, as well as practicing lawyers.
The North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission was created with the purpose of expanding the accessibility of the civil justice system.
- Establish the right to counsel in civil matters affecting basic human needs.
- Increase legislative funding of civil legal services at the state and federal levels.
- Encourage/support pro bono attorney participation.
- Help pro se litigants navigate the court system successfully.
- Educate the public.
- Increase the role of the business community.
- Include people with limited English proficiency in the justice system.
- Increase loan repayment assistance.
The Commission Does Not Make Legal Referrals Nor Provide Legal Advice.
Why We Exist
A staggering 80% of all the civil legal needs of the poor go unmet each year. Civil legal needs include legal representation in the areas of domestic violence, divorce, child custody, housing, consumer protection, employment, veterans’ benefits, and health.
71% of low-income families will experience at least one civil legal issue a year. There is only one legal aid attorney for every 11,000 North Carolinians eligible for legal services. In contrast, there is one private lawyer for every 362 North Carolina residents.
There were more than 2.2 million North Carolinians eligible for the services of legal aid providers in 2016. What these statistics mean is that there are many people eligible for legal assistance, but few providers of those legal services. This is an important issue as civil legal matters can impact basic human needs, such as housing and health insurance, and the availability of legal representation or advice can be the difference between being homeless and having shelter or being able to get the necessary medical care. In 2016 alone, legal aid providers across the state generated $52,122,184 in economic impact.
How Can You Help?
Donate MoneyLegal Aid organizations face a never-ending struggle to maintain funding and donations are always welcome and appreciated. VolunteerThe North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 6.1 states that attorneys should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono services per year. Attorney volunteers are crucial to bridging the gap between those with low/modest-income and the court system. If you are an attorney and you are looking to provide pro bono service, please find a list of pro bono opportunities. Contact Your LegislatorsThe new state budget made heavy cuts to legal aid funding. The General Assembly eliminated the Access to Civil Justice Act and the accompanying $1.50 filing fee. To advocate for the restoration of the $1.7 million in funding lost, please contact your representatives.
Telephone(919) 890-1090Mailing AddressNorth Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission
PO Box 2448
Raleigh, NC 27602
EmailJennifer M. Lechner
Executive Director, North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission
Sylvia K. Novinsky
Director, North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center